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It has been quite awhile since I have written a blog post. Unfortunately I’m not the sort who as a yen on a regular basis to put down on paper what I’m thinking. I actually prefer giving talks. In fact I’m on my way to Buffalo (flight delayed of course…) to give a Lightroom lecture and the Keynote addresss for the NFRCC (Northern Frontier Regional Camera Clubs) Annual convention.
I love giving talks. Certainly I have a prepared idea for the presentation and I have given enough talks that I have a general idea about what I’m going to say. But.. there is a spontaneity because I don’t use notes. I sometimes silently surprise myself, noting in my mind “Hmmm, that’s good … I’ve never said that before.” I like the trueness of the moment during a talk.
Writing is a different beast; a different kind of precision. And it requires sitting down. I actually think better when I’m moving around. “So use a microphone”, you are thinking. Well, it is not just what you say, it is how you say it. Inflections, pauses, body gestures all play a part in a talk. Writing, darn one has to be good, to put all of that into words.
Nevertheless I will continue to write in this blog. Promises, promises…
I’m in SFO on my way home from Bhutan.
Can you believe… I now have a small fracture on my foot (a common fracture of the 5th metatarsal) and am wearing a fashionable cast courtesy of the Punaka hospital. I was collateral damage from a “yak attack”.
“The Yak” courtesy of Elizabeth Menzies (wouldn’t you run from him!)
The beast was going for someone else but he looked mean so I decided that I should move also. I turned to run but tripped down a hill. Thinking of my neck (see previous post) I propelled myself into the arms of a hefty Bhutanese but landed on a turned foot. Luckily I was with Hill Hastings, a brilliant orthopedic surgeon. I had an x-ray in Punaka and Hill put on a plaster cast and fashioned a walking shoe out of my Chaco sandal with a rocking piece of wood on the bottom. Hooray for Ortho Engineering. So I hobbled my way eastwards through Dzongs and high roads. I rode a horse on the Merak-Sakteng trek up and down thousands of feet of steep rocky trails (although we got snowed out from crossing the pass.). Hooray for Norbu and Rakpa. My driver painted a huge phallus on the cast to keep away evil spirits (a common motif in Bhutan — huge ones painted on houses, wooden ones handing from roofs, etc.) The Bhutanese were thrilled and giggled copiously at the sight. However, I was not so sure that the airport security would understand, so I shrouded it with a lovely blue scarf. The cast is being replaced on Tuesday with a boring western one which I probably will wear for another three weeks. However, I am making sure that “Dick” remains intact and upright and will have a place of honor as bathroom art!
They lie about “trouble only comes in threes”. Oh, they lie!
Sorry everyone! there has been a glitch in my comments section but it is fixed now. I hope.
Hola I’m in Mexico City on my way to San Cristobal! I’m teaching a workshop in Mexico The Travel Photography Dream Team Tour (with Jeremy Woodhouse, Brenda Tharp, Holly Wilmeth, and myself)… I’m going to teach myself the i phone camera with lots of help from everyone here in Mexico!. So I got started yesterday with an app called Hipstamatic! This is going to be fun… and very challenging for me. It seems to require lots of fumbling and missing shots, but that’s the learning process! I know there are a zillon photo apps out there. Favorites anyone?
(iphone 3; App: Hipstamatic; Film: Blanko; Lens: John S)
This one is very simple straight-on (not my favs as you know) but I’m amazed how good it works in high noon contrasty sunlight. You have to frame properly with the Kodat funky border lens and that is a bit challenging with Hipstamatic, as the frame box is teeny on the iphone. I love that the new technology has opened up so many alternatives… but you still have to frame an interesting image. The funky processing helps, but only to a point. The first image is a more interesting photograph.
© copyright nevada wier Mexico City.
(iphone 3; App: Hipstamatic; Film: Kodat XGrizzled; Lens: John S)
…even when it seems impossible to handhold an image in the dark that if you put your camera on continuous and rip off at least five shots that the middle images has a high probability of being sharp even at 1/2 sec.
© nevada wier Sri Lanka, Kandy Esala Perahera
… sometimes there just are times when one needs a tripod! Some subjects beg to be sharp with a substantial depth of field in low light situations.
© nevada wier Sri Lanka, Dambulla Rock Cave
…95% of the boring photographs are taken straight on. Get low, get high, get a new lease on your physical perspective.
© nevada wier Sri Lanka, Negombo Beach
and if you don’t have any idea what you doing, just try… if you don’t click the shutter you are 100% guaranteed to fail!
© nevada wier Sri Lanka, Kandy Esala Perhera Elephant Festival
So here I sit in LAX, waiting for my plane to New Delhi. I won’t be carrying my usual retinue of gear; but having a creative perspective is of more importance than another lens. I’m looking forward to the simplicity of only using a lens or two, although I know it will feel quite strange. My new mantra: “Don’t forget to move…but move slowly and carefully!”
Chattisgarh. India 2009
I’m back in blogging mode. I looked at the comments people made in my poll “I would like you write more about…” and it is time to answer your questions. The overwhelming category in which you are most interested is Creative Photography. I’m thrilled about that because creativity is the heart and soul of photography. It is not enough to just aim the camera at a spectacular subject and click the shutter; anyone can do that. You have reach in and grab the essential moment in a personal and creative way. So I’m going to continue to address this over the summer months.
Also, in the comments section, a number of you asked me to write about The Editing Process. I think learning how to edit your images goes hand-in-hand with being a a Virtuoso of Seeing. Recently I was having a critique session with a photographer whose photographic method mostly meant aiming the camera at an interesting subject, then cropping it into an interesting photograph during editing, and then saturating the heck out of it! I was amazed (and horrified to be honest) at this process. It seemed bass-ackwards to me. If you have taken a workshop with me you know that I’m all about “Get it all in the frame and get it right”. Since I evolved from world of slide film and picky editors, I learned very early on that I had to have it perfect in that slender piece of celluloid–no cropping and no changing of content (of course that wasn’t possible in the pre-Photoshop era).
During my travels I have absolutely no desire to document everything in front of me. I am wandering about enjoying myself waiting for that spark of synchronicity with a subject (whether it be animate or inanimate). When I find a subject that touches me then it up to me to interpret it creativity and honestly. Sometimes it is just one click of the shutter, but other times there is time to work it. Usually I am looking for not just one interpretation, but many. Many, many, many if I can. If it is a great subject, then keep evaluating and sensing and thinking until the moment is over, or the person is gone, or it just feels over.
I want to come home and look through a lot of good images and find A Great One. Click and keep on reading, it’s good stuff!
I’m back from my travels in Northern Thailand (more on that later). My re-entry day involves A Day of Autism … which might mean going for a long walk, but usually means just watching TV or going to the movies. Today I watched the Olympics and reveled in what it means to be a virtuoso of the body and senses (a distant cousin to being a travel photographer).
I decided to take a break from the exhausting physical exertion of the Olympics to watch The Hurt Locker.
The first words on screen are “War is a Drug“.
I gasped; stopped the movie and thought about this. I was dangerously close to becoming a current event photographer. But I was scared. No, not of combat or unknown harsh humanity; but of the potential addiction to feeling “acutely aware on the razor edge of death”. I was a climber, kayaker, and mountaineer…so this was an obvious allure–a kind of photographic Olympics to the next deadly level. I pulled back from the allure of those intense endorphins. Yet, the thought still makes me gasp.
So it begs the question: Are photojournalist/war photographers in two categories? Ones who want to make a difference (but do they have the skills to survive)? Or, ones who thrive on risk yet have the skills to survive brutal adversity (but still need the empathy?). Or, as I believe, the best possess it all, and then they must also be maestros of photography.
Downhill skiing seems much simpler at this moment.
Back to the The Hurt Locker.. and it is only a movie… but it brings up very real feelings.
I’m in Yangon and, shock of all shocks, I have wireless at the Trader’s Hotel. I’ve been traveling here since 1986 … this is first. I don’t know why… but it means that I can tell you this tale:
I’m at lovely Shwedagon Pagoda, as the full moon begins the wane, I’m staring through star candle lanterns at the spire, photographing and reveling in the joy of the moment, and I hear a voice, “you aren’t just looking at the light, you are absorbing it”. I turn and there is a young Burmese monk with a friend, of gentle demeanor, yet sharp eyes. I say “Yes, it is tasty!”. And we proceed to converse. “Where are you from?”, they ask. “USA. New Mexico”, I reply. “Ah, yes … Land of Enchantment”, says the rakish friend with a baseball cap. “How did you know that!”, I exclaim. He says dryly, “It is on your license plate.” “Well, I know that, but how do you?” “I read it in a book.” And, we continue to have a wonderful conversation ending with me saying thank you in Burmese and he said “Da Nada”. I love to travel!
I’m mid-flight from New Delhi to Bangkok, and then tomorrow I’m on my way to Myanmar. I have just enough time to reflect a smidgeon on the photography tour I just led for National Geographic to Rajasthan. One of many things I love about National Geographic tours is that they are so international in nature; there were avid photographers from the US, Canada, Hong Kong, Thailand, and France. It was a group of singular synchronicity and fun.
We had many lively discussions. They had very thought provoking questions for me as we went bumping along in our magical bus through the desert of Rajasthan, such as “What is the element that is most important for a photograph?” What makes a photograph great? I’m sure all of you will have your own answer but here is mine, quite simplied.
Those of you who have taken workshops with me know that I talk about how photographs have the possibility of great Color, Light, Action (large in your face action or just a twinkle in the eye), or Pattern (or you could say Composition). CLAP, if you need an acronym.
You need two of these elements to create a photograph but to make a memorial one, one that SINGS… you need an added factor. It could be a punctuation of another element (as I discussed in an earlier blog post). However, I think it is more than that…it is when there is a harmonic convergence of the emotion of the photographer with the emotion of the moment (even if it is inanimate). In a way it is a photographic epiphany. These are rare, but it what all virtuosos of light aim for in their art.
And, because they are rare, this is why I continue to photograph. I don’t expect to reach my photographic Everest; I just love the journey through the ups and downs and many plateaus.
© nevada wier India, Jodphur. Evening Street Scene.
© nevada wier India, Rajasthan. Early morning Pushkar Fair.
© nevada wier India, Agra. Taj Mahal.
Recently I had the good fortune of being interviewed by two top-notch photographers who have very forward-looking blogs: Ibarionex Perello, The Candid Frame; and Matt Brandon, The Digital Trekker.
The interviews took place months apart but they happened to be published days apart. This is not the first time I’ve been interviewed on a podcast, but it made me pause and think about The New World Order for photographers.
(You can also find these podcasts on iTunes)
There has been a steady, gradual shift in the business of photography over the past few years, but I really see a major tectonic shift this summer.
When I started out it was all about magazines. I wanted to be published in magazines; whenever I was interviewed it was in magazines. Editors were The Great Barrier Reef that all photographers had to penetrate.
Magazines are still around but they are not the only forums for photographers, and they have less and less circulation and influence. Conversely, there is an increasing abundance of alternative venues for photo stories (with and without audio), single images, and videos. It is quite exciting, overwhelming, and much more democratic.
But, I can’t help but wonder …who will be paying for it? How will professional editorial (current event, travel, nature, etc.) photographers survive in this New World Order? And, it seems so much more work to me than writing proposals and figuring out to crack into specific magazines.
Plus there is no way to funnel the photographers who rise to the top through talent and hard work into central showcases. Magazines used to be that funnel leading to recognition known throughout out the general public, not just photographers. Now there seems to be a myriad of cells (through Twitter, Facebook, Flicker, Internet forums, etc.) providing platforms for enthusiastic photographers. This is a great boon to a wide range of photographers, but none have a wide range of followers. So it is A Wonderful New World Order for avid photographers and an increasingly stressing one for professionals. But I don’t think this is such a bad thing (ha! fooled you…no, I’m not bemoaning the situation).
I think it is time for a change. The day rate in magazines has not changed in over twenty-five years (I can’t think of any other profession where a pay rate hasn’t increased.) So pros can moan and groan, but it can be very exciting to reinvent one self. And, eventually, I think there will be a new conduit for the world at large to see the creme de la creme of photographers. And will there be will be a new God of Visual Judgment after the demise of magazine editors? (Do you think the median is the best judge of an art form? I don’t.)
I don’t have any answers; it’s exciting and thought provoking (as well as often frustrating) to be at the cusp of such a change.
As Helen Keller said, “Life is either a great adventure or nothing.”
So I watch, marvel and try to ride the surf on top of the wave! Whether I get crunched … I don’t know.
© nevada wier Myanmar. Inle Lake.
Even though I travel to so-called exotic locations it doesn’t mean that great images will automatically appear. There are the same creative challenges as photographing in your hometown (although there are very different social challenges). The main difference is that we are usually very jazzed and ready to photograph whenever we travel into our own terra incognito. Yet, this is often when the joy of travel overcomes artistic insight. Exoticism should not carry an image; it should stand by its own photographic gravity.
I have often said that there are four possibilities in a color image – the possibility of intense color, great light, strong action or gesture, and compelling pattern or composition (CLAP). There has to be at least two of these if an image is to have impact. And, sometimes one of these elements adds strong punch, zing, woo-hoo, or punctuation. Like putting an exclamation at the end of a sentence. One takes notice. The punctuation is the zing to an already commendable image.
Recently I was in Nagaland of northeastern India right on the India/Myanmar border. Literally, I was standing on the border; it ran through the middle of the headman’s house. There was serious opium imbibing in extremely dark rooms. I blessed the high ISO capabilities of my Canon 5D Mark II since using a tripod was not an option. However, I didn’t want to photograph the usual “person in front of a fire” tribal image. BTDT. Then I noticed the serrated light falling on the face of one of men. I balanced my camera on my knees, framed him on the right side, waited for the right moment, took a deep breath and let it out, then ripped off five frames. (Even at ISO 1600 with a 28mm f/1.8 lens I was down to 1/5 sec at f/1.8). As I hoped, the middle frame was sharp. And the punctuation of the light makes the image. Zing!!
© nevada wier 2009 India. Nagaland State. Longwa Village.
DETAIL OF FACE
Here is another example from an older image taken in Ladakh, India. I don’t know how long the shutter speed was (film days) but it was long enough to “ghost” out the image of the head monk crossing the room (no, it is not a curtain). I was on a tripod (no way to hand hold an image like this one) using Kodachrome 200. The punctuation is in the face peering through the ghosting, it is the only frame that worked.
© nevada wier Ladakh, India. Rizong Monastery.
DETAIL, IN GHOSTING, OF A PILGRIM’S FACE